It has been a couple of years now since its debut on the film festival circuit, but a powerful documentary that intimately chronicled the archetypal urban struggle — played out almost daily across the nation — pitting billion-dollar development against stoic neighborhood residents, gets another airing this weekend.
On Saturday, the Dorsey High School Auditorium at 9:30 a.m. hosts a free screening of “Battle for Brooklyn,” showing how residents in Prospect Heights fought valiantly to try and save their homes and businesses that were ultimately demolished for the construction of the Barclays Center stadium that now houses the Brooklyn Nets.
The screening is sponsored by the Urban Planning Academy, the Los Angeles Public Policy Round Table, the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council, the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council and the Hyde Park Organizational Partnership for Empowerment.
The film echoes sporting relocation fights like that of the Minnesota Vikings, the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles’ own drama in building a downtown NFL stadium. But it’s not only sport where those interests clash; the Leimert Park Subway Coalition took on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and forced through a proposed stop at Leimert Park Village for the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line. Similarly, in Inglewood a lot of residents are uneasy about the renovation of the Forum and the much touted transformation of the Hollywood Park Racetrack.
Meanwhile, filmed over an eight-year period by husband-and-wife team Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, “Battle for Brooklyn,” casts graphic designer Daniel Goldstein as a sort of heroic Jimmy Stewart as he becomes the last homeowner in his building to defy billionaire developer Bruce Ratner and his Forest City real estate company. Along the way, Goldstein loses his fiancée and his mother, falls in love with fellow protestor Shabnam Merchant, gets married and has a child while living in his vacated building.
Goldstein, joined by another dedicated resident Patti Hagan, helped to form an activist group called “Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB),” they in turn were championed by local New York City Council member Letitia James and later attracted support from Brooklyn-based actors like Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez and John Turturro.
However, not only was Ratner backed by his billions, he also had the full support of Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, fellow billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg and rap mogul Jay-Z, who although owning only one-15th of one percent of the Nets, was seen as a major player behind the team.
The battle also had racial and class connotations, with a vocal Black lobby organization called Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, headed by a Rev. Herbert Daughtry, advocating in support of the developers and clashing verbally with DDDB, which they saw as being led by White, middle-class privilege. It was later revealed that Ratner had a hand in the creation and funding of the nonprofit.
Thus, officially dubbed “The Atlantic Yard” project (a no longer in use railtrack would form part of the stadium), the local New York press saw it pretty much as a slam dunk until David started to bite back at Goliath.
In the film, the developers spin an attractive public relations pitch: 10,000 local jobs, 16 high-rise affordable housing units and the civic pride of having an NBA franchise on their doorstep. Nevertheless, DDDB doubted those jobs would ever materialize, pointed out massive subsidies that Ratner was being granted and countered that no one really cared about the Nets anyway.
“I talked to about a 1,000 local residents,” James said. “They told me we need more schools and daycare. Nobody told me we needed a basketball arena.”
In the intervening years, when the 2008 recession looked like it would doom the project, ironically forcing Ratner to find a buyer for the Nets — Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov — the two sides eventually met in court when the land was controversially deemed “blighted” and eminent domain was used to push through the project.
“When you talk about government officials working with favored developers, that’s the definition of a plutocracy,” said Galinsky in a phone interview Monday. “The mayor and the most powerful developer in the city; this thing is going to happen. Then, subliminally, it became about democracy and how government works. One of the interesting things was that we had trouble getting people to understand it, but once the Occupy movement happened, people really got it.”
Galinsky, who actually lived a few blocks away from Prospect Park, and had a child that attended daycare in the neighborhood, said that he didn’t set out to make a propaganda film.
“We weren’t personally affected, but our neighborhood was,” he explained. “We made it exist in the world so it could become part of the conversation. This week someone brought up the film on NPR in relation to Trayvon Martin and how things are not fair.
“This is relatable everywhere; you have the same thing going in San Francisco and there in L.A. It’s a universal story told in a very personal way.”
(L to R) John Turturro, Architect Gilly Youner. Councilmember Letitia James and Daniel Goldstein. Photo by Tracy Collins